Cities chart course through pension morass

DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press Published:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- It may not attract the attention of the "fiscal cliff," but cities across the U.S. are facing a precipice of their own caused by failures to properly fund decades of retirement promises to public workers.

Collectively, American cities face nearly $600 billion in unfunded pension obligations. Longer-living retirees and rising health care costs have driven retirement costs higher, even as cities lost billions in pension fund investments during the economic downturn.

In Philadelphia, pension costs went from $200 million a year to more than $500 million in a single decade. Cities in Rhode Island dimmed streetlights, raised taxes and put off road repairs.

Attempts to unilaterally cut pensions often result in court battles with unions and retirees, but in Providence, Mayor Angel Taveras has shown it's possible to negotiate concessions with unions to avert fiscal collapse.